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Toxic Wastewater Dumped in Streets and Rivers at Night: Gas Profiteers Getting Away With Shocking Environmental Crimes

Allan Shipman was found guilty of illegally dumping millions of gallons of natural gas drilling wastewater. But he's part of a much bigger problem.

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Of more concern to Ziemkiewicz are the levels of bromide in this region’s water. Bromide is another chemical compound that is naturally seen in seawater. Or according to DEP state files, “Bromide in fresh water is typically found in areas influenced by saltwater intrusion or another bromide source (well drilling brines, industrial chemicals and agricultural chemicals).”

Myron Arnowitt, the PA state director for the Clean Water Action puts bromide into geographical perspective. “It’s really only coastal communities that generally deal with bromides as a water contamination problem. Obviously most of PA is outside of the Delaware estuary.”

When asked if bromide was historically consistent with mine discharges in the area, Ziemkiewicz responds, “bromide is not normally found in coal mining.”

Dufalla put it a bit more bluntly: “Now here’s the million dollar question, how is bromide coming out of coal water discharges, and why do the permits allowing these discharges not address bromides? The reason they don’t address bromides is because they never had bromides coming out of coal before. 1.8 trillion gallons of water beneath southwestern PA and Northern West Virginia because the land has been mined out. A giant honeycomb underneath the region is filled with water. I understand the brine and magnesium, but we’re getting high levels of strontium and high levels of bromide coming out of these discharges. It’s not supposed to be there. Where is it coming from? I asked the DEP and cannot get an answer…EPA-no answer… Alpha Natural Resources [the company putting out many of the discharges] no answer… Nobody knows where they’re coming from, yet here they are. If you start putting two and two together, it’s a pretty good thought that just maybe, some of this Marcellus wastewater has made it into our mines. Just maybe.”

Bromide, in and of itself, is not harmful to humans. Says Dr. Ziemkiewicz, “Bromide is only problematic after it goes through a drinking water utility and is converted to THM [trihalomethane] and associated compounds which are, indeed, harmful.”

When bromide meets the chlorine at a public water intake system it forms triahalomethane, which affects the central nervous system and has been linked to several types of cancer, as well as birth defects. And says Ziemkiewicz; this is “a big concern for municipal water authorities.”

Trihalomethanes have caused the residents of Carmichaels, PA to share in these concerns. Boiling tap water advisories, recommendations to drink bottled water, a water buffalo set up at the local fire department to supply residents with clean drinking water— these have all become standard fare in Carmichaels since the gas boom began. And headlines such as the following from the Herald Standard from June 14, 2011 no longer come as a surprise: “Carmichaels Water Contaminated Again.”

While a lot has been written about contamination of well water due to hydraulic fracturing, what about the tap water? In the midst of Carmichaels' ongoing problem, municipal president Dan Bailey vented to the local papers in 2011: ”What upsets me is DEP knows what’s causing this yet they’re letting drillers dump that water into wastewater plants that don’t test it before they dump it into the river,” Bailey said. ”This is not caused by our plant. It’s caused by DEP not regulating what they are dumping into the river.”

The New York Times reported, “In late 2008, drilling and coal-mine waste released during a drought so overwhelmed the Monongahela that local officials advised people in the Pittsburgh area to drink bottled water. E.P.A. officials described the incident in an internal memorandum as 'one of the largest failures in U.S. history to supply clean drinking water to the public.'"

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